The meteoric rise of wireless earbuds, aided by the removal of the headphone jack in smartphones, and rise of streaming services (which give listeners access to millions of tracks in a couple of taps), has been somewhat astonishing.
For years, many of us were content with using either the wired earbuds that came with our device, or a pair from the local drugstore. Only audiophiles continued to invest in over-ear wired headphones, which admittedly offer a higher level of audio quality and comfort than tiny buds. But over-ear headphones aren’t practical for commuters, runners, or anyone who wants to listen to music while moving around.
Wireless earbuds are more practical for everyday music listening because of their small size, good sound quality, and continually improving battery life. Even active noise cancellation, a luxury feature previously found only in the highest-end over-ear headphones, has come to wireless earbuds. We still appreciate the audio fidelity of over-ear headphones, and recommend them to anyone doing serious music listening for several hours at a time in a specific spot, but everyone should have a pair of wireless earbuds on hand.
Whether you’re a frequent traveler or someone looking for a way to block out annoying sounds while you work, these are the best wireless earbuds available right now.
How We Picked the Best Wireless Earbuds
Our wireless earbud recommendations are based on a mix of hands-on testing and research.
True Wireless: Many of the most popular wireless earbuds available today fall into the “true wireless” category. This means each bud communicates to your device independently, without a cable connecting them. True wireless earbuds used to be very expensive and not very reliable (AirPods were a notable exception), but that’s changed recently.
While true wireless earbuds are all the rage, they’re not the only style of headphone in this category. There’re still wireless earbuds that connect to one another with a cable, or use technology like bone conductivity (yes, really) to deliver sound to your ears. We’ve covered all of these bases in our guide.
Battery Life: Let’s be honest, wireless earbuds are small, which means they won’t last as long as on-ear or over-ear headphones. That said, the models we’re recommending offer at least five hours of playtime per charge. The amount of battery you actually get will depend on your listening volume, and whether you keep power-hungry features like active noise cancellation enabled all the time.
True wireless earbuds come with a battery case, which charges them when you’re not using them. This accessory can extend the life of your earbuds by up to 16 hours. If you have battery anxiety, but typically take breaks from listening to music throughout the day, that style of earbud may be your best bet.
Noise Cancellation: There are two types of noise cancellation where headphones are concerned: passive and active.
Passive noise cancellation means your wireless earbud creates a seal around your ear canal that physically blocks out unwanted sounds. This type of noise cancellation requires additional battery life, but is somewhat limited. Sure, you’ll hear less noise, but it’s basically the equivalent of sticking your finger in your ears, albeit with the added benefit of listening to music you like.
Active noise cancellation is what most people think of when they hear the term noise cancellation. Microphones built into the wireless earbud automatically filter out sounds that fall within a particular frequency range. Headphone manufacturers have become savvy enough to tune their earbuds to prevent common noises — think airplane engines or air conditioners — from reaching your ears. Enabling active noise cancellation will eat into your wireless earbuds’ battery life, but may allow you to listen to music at lower volumes, since you won’t have as much outside noise to block out.
Eartip Type: The end of a wireless earbud that fits inside your ear is referred to as its tip, and there are two types to consider: hardshell and gummy.
Hardshell eartips don’t create as much of a seal around your ear, which means their bass response will be a little weak, and their passive noise cancellation won’t be as good. That said, wireless earbuds with hardshell tips are almost guaranteed to fit and stay inside your ears.
Gummy eartips are common on most wireless earbuds these days because they’re required for active noise cancellation, and make the headphones sound better by creating a seal around your ear. The downside of gummy eartips is that their seal may eventually weaken, at which point the earbuds will pop out of your ears. To combat this, manufacturers of gummy-tipped earbuds include multiple sizes of ear tip with their headphone. We strongly recommend taking an hour or so to find the ear tips that fit your ear best before walking outside and running the risk of losing your wireless earbuds.
Microphones: All of the wireless earbuds we’re recommending have microphones inside of them, which makes them convenient to use during conference calls if you’re working from a computer without a built-in mic. Wireless earbuds have microphones even if they don’t support active noise cancellation.
Multipoint Pairing: This is a luxury feature that enables your wireless earbuds to stay connected to multiple devices at the same time. This allows you to switch between playing music on a smartphone, then over to your computer for a conference call. Maintaining simultaneous connections with multiple devices is tricky, so earbuds that have this feature can still be hit or miss.
Best Wireless Earbuds: Reviews and Recommendations
Best Overall: AirPods Pro
Why They Made The Cut: Apple’s AirPods Pro are two years old, but their noise cancellation and audio quality continue to impress.
— Style: True Wireless
— Eartip Style: Gummy
— Price: $174.99
— Great audio quality
— Solid active noise cancelling
— Comfortable fit
— Work best with other Apple products
The iPhone 7 was the first mainstream smartphone to ship without a headphone jack, and Apple announced the first-generation AirPods at the very same event. Subtle. The company’s premium true wireless earbuds, the AirPods Pro, have been around for a couple of years now, but they’re still the pair of wireless earbuds we find ourselves reaching for most often.
The AirPods Pro are an excellent “all-around” pair of wireless earbuds. This means other earbuds might best them in one area (noise cancellation, audio quality, fit), but not all of them. Two years on, the AirPods Pro still sound pretty good, with rich bass that booms without overpowering the midrange and treble, and enough treble to help sharp sounds like cymbals stick out without hurting your ears. We can’t detect any sibilance (a harsh sound when singers use words with the letter S in them) either, which was a problem with earlier versions of the AirPods, and old wireless earbuds in general.
The world of audio moves at a brisk pace, so it’s impressive that AirPods Pro are still competitive. That’s especially true because the earbuds that sound better cost a lot more. At roughly $200 on sale, the AirPods Pro are actually a relative bargain, though we’re curious to see what happens when Apple inevitably updates them. There’s a lot of ground for the company to make up, and we doubt it’s been resting on its laurels this entire time.
The AirPods Pro come with three sizes of eartips, and we found they fit in our ears pretty well, even during active movement. Apple designed a digital fit test available in the Settings app on iOS to help you pick the correct eartip size. The earbuds will play a tone, and the software will use the earbuds’ microphones to measure how much sound has leaked out. You’ll be able to feel whether the AirPods Pro eartips you’re using are the correct size, but it’s nice to use this test as a way to double check.
Active noise cancellation has become a common feature in true wireless earbuds, but the AirPods Pro were the first pair to get it right. The wireless earbuds block out an impressive amount of noise — in our tests office chatter disappeared, and the sound of a plane engine was reduced significantly. The AirPods Pro’s noise cancellation isn’t perfect, but the fact that it holds up two years later is worth noting. Apple has also continued to support the AirPods Pro with firmware updates, which have improved their audio quality and tweaked their active noise cancellation.
You can pair the AirPods Pro with any device, but the wireless earbuds have a custom-designed chip called the H1, which allows it to work best with other Apple gear. When paired with other Apple products, the AirPods use this processor and special software to work more efficiently, resulting in better battery life. The differences aren’t huge, but it’s worth keeping this in mind. Apple users have the additional benefit of being able to search for the AirPods Pro’s location using the Find My app on iOS and MacOS. If you accidentally misplace your wireless earbuds often, this feature can be a big help.
We’ve had a good experience with Apple’s AirPods over our extended testing period, but the wireless earbuds are known to degrade over time. Users have noticed a rattling noise that continues to grow louder until the wireless earbuds are unlistenable. Normally, this type of defect would be disqualifying, but Apple has gone above and beyond in replacing AirPods Pro with this defect. If you shop at an Apple Store, the Genius can actually put your AirPods Pro through a test, and give you a brand new pair of wireless earbuds should your current ones fail. This level of customer service is laudable, and makes the AirPods Pro an even better buy.
The wireless earbud marketplace is bustling, with new models released all the time, but Apple’s AirPods Pro are still the first pair you should consider first.
Best Budget: Edifier NeoBuds Pro
Why They Made The Cut: The Edifier NeoBuds Pro feel and sound a lot better than their sub-$100 price tag would suggest.
— Style: True Wireless
— Eartip Style: Gummy
— Price: $94.95
— Customizable sound
— Solid connectivity
— Comes with six sizes of eartips
— Noise cancellation isn’t perfect
Edifier’s NeoBuds Pro took the top slot in our “best wireless earbuds under $100 guide,” so they were the obvious budget pick for this one.
For just under $100 (the price is $129.99, but Amazon offers a free, $35 coupon on its site) you’re getting a great sounding pair of earbuds without any notable compromises. They’re true wireless earbuds, and maintained a strong, consistent connection with all of the devices we connected them to. Their connection even held firm when the device we were using was in our pocket, and we were walking around.
The NeoBuds Pro sound particularly good for a pair of sub-$100 wireless earbuds. If we had to nitpick, the wireless earbuds were a little bass-heavy, but not distractingly so. If you want to tweak the NeoBuds Pros’ sound, you can do so inside Edifier’s “Connect” app, which is available for both iOS and Android. We didn’t need to mess around with the NeoBuds Pro’s EQ (equalization) settings during our tests, but it’s nice to have the option. This is especially true if you want a little extra bass or treble when listening to music from a particular genre.
The NeoBuds Pro support hybrid noise cancellation. This allows the earbuds to filter **all** outside noises instead of targeting specific frequencies. This form of active noise cancellation wasn’t as good at isolating specific sounds when compared to premium-priced wireless earbuds, but the results were impressive for a pair that costs under $100. The bottom line is that you may still end up hearing some airplane engine noise when using the NeoBuds Pro on a flight, but shouldn’t hear co-workers moving around you in the office.
Our experience with gummy-tipped wireless earbuds has always been a mixed bag. If your ear canal is different than the manufacturer expected, wearing wireless earbuds can require constant fiddling to prevent them from falling out of your ears. We didn’t have that problem with the NeoBuds Pro because Edifier included six sizes of eartips with these earbuds. For reference, many earbuds only come with three eartips (sized small, medium, large), so this is a big upgrade. We ended up choosing the largest size, and the NeoBuds Pro fit snugly, but not uncomfortably tight. If you’ve avoided gummy-tipped earbuds because they just wouldn’t fit in your ears, the NeoBuds Pro may change your mind.
Edifier’s NeoBuds Pro are clearly the best budget-priced earbuds on the market because they’re so well rounded, but we’re inclined to recommend them regardless of your budget.
Best for Exercise: Powerbeats Pro
Why They Made The Cut: The Powerbeats Pro’s longevity and over-the-hook design make them ideal for situations with a lot of movement.
— Style: True Wireless
— Eartip Style: Gummy
— Price: $199.95
— Secure fit
— Extended battery life
— This style of wireless earbud can irritate the skin
— Best suited for one particular use
— No active noise cancellation
The Powerbeats Pro are the perfect example of finding the perfect tool for a particular job. These wireless earbuds were designed from top to bottom for use at the gym — whether it’s in your living room or down the block.
When you’re exercising, the last thing you want to think about is whether your wireless earbud is about to fall out. The Powerbeats Pro have hooks that fit over the back of your ears to hold the earbuds in place while you move around. This feature is critically important when you’re working out, but may irritate the skin behind your ear when wearing the Powerbeats Pro for an extended period of time. That’s a reality of any wireless earbuds with a behind-the-ear design.
Beats says the Powerbeats Pro last up to nine hours on a single charge, which is incredibly impressive, but that extended battery life is possible because these wireless earbuds lack active noise cancellation. This isn’t a deal breaker if you plan on only using them at the gym, but make them a worse pick for travelers.
Apple purchased Beats several years ago, which is why the Powerbeats Pro features the same H1 chip found in the AirPods Pro. This means they work especially well when paired with Apple products, though they’ll connect to any device via Bluetooth. Powerbeats Pro are also compatible with Apple’s Find My app, which can help you locate the wireless earbuds if they’ve been misplaced.
If you want to have no doubts about your wireless earbuds staying in your ears while you’re exercising, and don’t mind their lack of active noise cancellation, Powerbeats Pro are our top pick.
Best Noise-Cancelling: Sony WF-1000XM4
Why They Made The Cut: If you want a pair of wireless earbuds that can block out the entire world, Sony’s WF-1000XM4s are the ones to get.
— Style: True Wireless
— Eartip Style: Gummy
— Price: $248
— Exceptional active noise cancellation
— Custom processor that helps deliver incredible sound
— Water resistance
— So-so fit
Sony has been on a roll lately, creating some of the best over-ear headphones and wireless earbuds we’ve ever heard, and the WF-1000XM4s are no exception.
We put the WF-1000XM4s to the test, and found their audio quality to be incredible. We could easily pick out individual elements of a song, even when listening to busy tracks with a lot of different sounds happening simultaneously. In weeks of testing, we couldn’t stump the WF-1000XM4s, they continued to perform really, really well.
Audio quality should be these wireless earbuds’ standout feature, but their active noise cancellation puts the competition to shame. Sony has been slowly perfecting its noise-cancellation hardware and software, and the WF-1000XMs worked even better than we expected. These earbuds eliminated nearly all outside noise when they were turned on and music was playing at a volume of roughly 50 percent.
This combination of sonic excellence and active noise cancellation should have helped the WF-1000XM4s take the best overall slot in our guide, but we were slightly disappointed by their fit. It’s not that the WF-1000XM4s would regularly fall out of our ears, but we could feel them slowly dislodging. This issue occurred regardless of which of the included eartips we work, and took away from the enjoyment of listening to music on a pair of objectively great-sounding earbuds.
If the WF-1000XM4s fit well in your ears, which is something you can only figure out by testing them for yourselves, you probably won’t want to take them out until the battery dies.
What We’re Testing Now: Bang & Olufsen Beoplay EX
Why They Made The Cut: It’s too early to say, but Bang & Olufsen’s Beoplay EXs are the most exciting earbuds we’ve tried in 2022.
— Style: True Wireless
— Eartip Style: Gummy
— Price: $399.99
— Fantastic audio quality
— Rock solid connectivity
— So-so fit
— Underwhelming noise cancellation for the price
Bang & Olufsen’s Beoplay EX wireless earbuds won’t be released until the end of May 2022, but we’ve gotten our hands on a pair in advance for testing. Our thoughts about these earbuds aren’t completely solid, but we felt it was important to let you know what was looming on the horizon if you’re waiting to get the most cutting-edge tech.
Our initial reactions to the Beoplay EXs have been very positive. These wireless earbuds sound incredible, with a level of audio quality we’re used to experiencing from over-ear headphones in a much smaller package. We’re putting them through our listening tests now, but we don’t have any complaints at this early stage of our evaluation.
The Beoplay EXs have charmed us with their sound, but their fit and active noise cancellation leave something to be desired. We’re confident that Bang & Olufsen can sharpen the algorithm these wireless earbuds use to block sound via a firmware update, but there’s nothing the company can do about how they fit. Again, this comes down to the shape of your ears, but we can’t seem to keep the Beoplay EXs in our ears for very long. Bang & Olufsen include a pair of non-gummy-style eartips with these wireless earbuds, but using them further compromise their active noise cancellation performance.
It’s too early to tell, but Bang & Olufsen’s EXs seem like the harbinger of premium earbuds to come.
Things to Consider Before Buying Wireless Earbuds
Other styles of headphone: True wireless earbuds have the convenience of portability, but you should think about where you listen to music before deciding to pick up a pair. If you mostly sit at a desk all day, it might be wiser to invest in a nice pair of over-ear headphones, which will sound and feel better when worn for an extended period of time instead.
Q: Can I pair my wireless earbuds to smartphones, tablets, and computers from any manufacturer?
Yes. Wireless earbuds connect to devices via Bluetooth, which is a common wireless protocol supported by iOS, Android, ChromeOS, MacOS, and Windows.
Q: How long will wireless earbuds last?
You should expect to get two to three years of daily use from wireless earbuds before their battery starts to degrade significantly?
Q: How should I responsibly dispose of my old headphones?
If you’re replacing older headphones with a new pair of wireless earbuds, we recommend checking out our guide to recycling e-waste.
Final Thoughts on Wireless Earbuds
Listening to music on wireless earbuds used to mean making a series of unfortunate compromises. Not only did you have to sacrifice audio quality, but you’d end up with headphones that didn’t last as long, or feel as luxe as over-ear headphones. The latest generation of wireless earbuds proves this isn’t the case. You could get away with using any pair of wireless earbuds in our guide as your primary means of listening to music and podcasts without any regrets.
This post was created by a non-news editorial team at Recurrent Media, Futurism’s owner. Futurism may receive a portion of sales on products linked within this post.